Tanner Houck is the Future (and Present)

You never know what to expect from young pitchers when the pressure turns up in the postseason. Some can handle it, and even thrive on it, and others collapse and lower their performance level. Good thing for the Red Sox, 25-year old Tanner Houck is thriving in his first taste of postseason baseball this season. Houck has emerged as the top long arm out of the bullpen during this postseason run, using his experience as a starter to help him stretch out in his relief appearances or give a short outing if needed. Houck has appeared in 2 postseason outings thus far and yesterday, he may have saved the Red Sox season.

In the first 3 postseason games for the Red Sox, Houck has appeared twice, throwing a shutout inning with 2 Ks against the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game and yesterday he relieved Chris Sale in the 2nd inning and threw 5 innings of 1 run, 2 hit ball with 5 Ks. The context of yesterday’s performance was incredible. He came in after Sale allowed 5 runs in the first inning, 4 off a Jordan Luplow grand slam, and was asked to stop the bleeding and try to fill some innings. Houck did more than stop the bleeding, he completely shut down the Rays throwing 4 perfect innings before allowing 2 hits, including a solo HR, in his 5th inning of relief. It was exactly what the Red Sox needed to stay in the game and let their offense get back in the game (which they did in a BIG way).

In critical, high pressure situations, Houck has been lights out. His outing prior to his two postseason appearances was essentially another postseason game. He came in early in relief of Chris Sale in the final game of the season at the Washington Nationals in essentially a must win. He spun another absolute gem, going 5 perfect innings with 8 Ks to keep the Red Sox in the game and allow for a comeback (sense a pattern here?). His last 3 appearances, in the highest of pressure situations, he has allowed 2 hits (1 HR), 0 BBs, and accumulated 15Ks in 11 innings. That’s dominance when the Red Sox needed it the most.

If the Red Sox can find a way to beat the Rays twice more and move on to the ALCS, Houck could be a pivotal piece of the pitching staff, whether as a starter or reliever. There will definitely be a decision to make about the starters in a 7-game series, especially with Eduardo Rodriguez‘s struggles and Sale clearly not being right coming off of Tommy John surgery. Eovaldi is definitely the Red Sox #1, and then it’s a mush of Nick Pivetta, Sale, ERod, and maybe Houck to either start or be long-relief. It feels like the Rays “starter” model of the last several years, where the starter is only expected to go a few innings backed up by a deep bullpen.

All of this sets Houck up to be a member of the starting rotation for the Red Sox next year, which is exciting to think about. The Red Sox have been searching for rotation depth, especially some younger talent to infuse energy. Tanner Houck is a guy who can give you a chance to win every 5th day and his ceiling is pretty high. He has the makeup to be a front-end rotation talent with a bit more experience and could be the future #1 in this rotation. Even more importantly, he’s proven he can pitch well and even be dominant when the lights are the brightest.

Postseason Fever Back for the Red Sox

The last few months for the Boston Red Sox have been filled with challenges, injuries, and underwhelming performances. Down the stretch, most every member of the offense had (or is having) a dry spell and the pitching staff has been a bit all over the map. The Red Sox season came down to game 162 and thanks to some timely hitting leading to a big comeback, postseason baseball is back in Boston. After the high of the win, reality sunk in that their triumphant return to the postseason would be shaped by a 1-game wild card showdown with none-other-than their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees.

As a Red Sox fan, last night’s AL Wild Card game was a thing of beauty. With a battle of the two staff aces, Gerrit Cole for the Yankees and Nathan Eovaldi for the Red Sox, you knew runs would be at a premium. Thankfully, one of the slumping Red Sox bats, Xander Bogaerts, turned the page and crushed a 2-run HR in the 1st inning to give the Sox an early lead. Not to be forgotten was the Rafael Devers walk, battling back from a 1-2 count, in the at-bat before to keep the inning alive. When Xander hit the HR, his reaction said it all. I haven’t seen him that excited in a loonnnggg time and it absolutely set the tone for the entire game. Xander is generally a quiet leader who lead by example. Last night, he led by example, but was anything but quiet.

There were so many important performances and moments in this one game that there isn’t time to recap them all (and there are plenty of other places to get that coverage), but the thing that impressed me the most about last night was the players resilience and belief. It sounds cheesy, but every time the Red Sox got in a jam, or a pitcher gave up a run, the players seemed to rally behind each other and believe in each other. They limited damage and extended the lead when the Yankees put pressure on, which is something they struggled with most of September.

The best example of limiting damage and playing together was in the 6th inning right after Eovaldi was replaced by Ryan Brasier and Giancarlo Stanton crushed his 2nd ball off the monster in the game (despite what John Sterling thinks, they both went OFF the monster, not OVER). Alex Verdugo misplayed the carom angle (which to be fair is a near impossible read), but Kike Hernandez was there to back him up, got the ball quickly in to Bogaerts and X-man threw an absolutely perfectly placed laser to home where Kevin Plawecki beautifully tagged Aaron Judge to cut down the run.

If that play doesn’t happen, then the score is 3-2 with a runner in scoring position and just 1 out. Momentum, if not the lead, would likely have shifted to the New York dugout and the intensity, and pressure, would have risen. The Red Sox needed everyone to be alert and play their positions in perfect harmony and when they did that, they finally succeeded in the elusive area of defensive fundamentals. I’ve been harping on their lack of defensive consistency all year and the numbers show they are one of the worst defensive teams in baseball and frankly, I don’t fully understand why. They have some weaker spots on the field but for the most part, they have talented players who should be at least average at their positions. All can be forgiven if they turn the page in the postseason and play clean, smart baseball.

If the Red Sox are confident and can consistently hit, pitch pretty well, and play solid defense, they have the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs, but those are big ifs. They passed their first test on Tuesday, now they have an even bigger test upcoming with the 100 win Tampa Bay Rays.

And hey, if you’re a Yankees fan, don’t get too sad because there is still something to look forward to. On Valentines Day, February 14th 2022, pitchers and catchers report.

Can the Bleeding Be Stopped for the Red Sox?

The last few weeks have been an abject disaster for the Boston Red Sox. The team has gone from an over-achieving, likable contender that was fun to watch to an under-achieving, disappointing mess that makes me want to turn off the TV at least twice a game. Since July 28th, the Red Sox are 3-10 and have gone from 1st place in the AL East, 2.5 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays and 8.5 games ahead of the New York Yankees, to 2nd place in the AL East, 4 games back of the Rays and just 1.5 games ahead of the Yankees. The team is collapsing in every aspect of play with less than 50 games left. Can the season be salvaged at this point?

The 2021 season has been a tail of two halves (pre/post All Star game). The 1st half saw the Red Sox surprise everyone with a 55-36 record and a +57 run differential. After a sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles to start the year, the team turned on the jets and were winning games in every way, including 30+ come from behind victories. It felt like this team had the championship contender x-factors: grittiness and never-give-up-mentality. Then the 2nd half of the season kicked off and the team has lost the qualities we fell in love with earlier in the year. Their 10-13 record in the 2nd half is highlighted by a -24 run differential.

The biggest issue with the team right now? It depends on the game, but basically everything. For most of the season the starting pitching has been just OK but the offense has more than made up for poor starts. The offense overall was averaging a very strong 5.1 runs per game before the All-Star break, but since the break, that number has dropped more than a run per game to 3.8. On the pitching side, the staff was allowing 4.0 runs per game in the first half and have been allowing 4.6 runs per game since the break. While the pitching jump isn’t as drastic as the offensive production drop, the combination of the two is dramatic.

The struggles on offense can be directly linked to the top two hitters in the lineup, J.D. Martinez (.253 in 21 games in the 2nd half with just 3 HRs and 9 RBIs) and Xander Bogaerts (.221 in 20 games in the 2nd half with 1 HR and 5 RBIs). During the 1st half of the season, Martinez’s average was .046 points higher and Bogaerts’ average was .100 points higher than the 2nd half. Overall, the team average dropped .009, which doesn’t seem significant in a small sample, but is obviously showing itself in runs scored. There is also some diminished power in the 2nd half of the season with the team’s HRs per game number dropping from 1.26 to 1.13, but even the 1.13 is inflated thanks to a 6 HR and 5 HR game on July 19 and 21. Since July 21, the Red Sox are hitting just 0.72 HRs per game.

The the pitching side, it’s a different chapter of the same story. Only 2 of the 5 primary starting pitchers on the Red Sox has an ERA at or below their career average, meaning that based on ERA alone, 3/5 of the starting rotation is underachieving this season. Since ERA doesn’t tell the whole story, a look at WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning) confirms the struggles with 3/5 of the rotation above their career average. While the overall picture isn’t great, the 1st half vs 2nd half disparity is even worse. The ERA growth in the 2nd half of the season is absolutely crushing the team right now. All but one starter’s ERA has grown since the All-Star break, and the lone exception, E-Rod, was already so high at 5.52 before the break that a drop isn’t shocking (Garrett Richards +1.84 ERA, Nathan Eovaldi +2.30, Eduardo Rodriguez -1.32, Martin Perez +4.78, Nick Pivetta +0.20).

There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of talk around the inactivity at the trade deadline for the Red Sox, but I’m honestly not sure it would have made enough of a difference. As the offense has come back down to earth and the pitching staff has struggle a bit more, one more starter and one more offensive player weren’t going to turn around the fortunes of this club, but could have helped win a game or two. It’s an overall team struggle at the moment.

There were a few encouraging offensive signs in the series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays. If the bats can come alive and return to form and the pitching staff can begin to right the ship just a little, even just a little, they can recover. The addition of a 75% Chris Sale will help significantly by moving a starter to the bullpen helping to alleviate some strain there. The Red Sox are still 16 games above .500 despite the horrible slide, so a course correction could leave them in the hunt. I don’t think they are good enough to be a legitimate championship contender anymore the way the roster stands, but some competitive postseason baseball would be nice…please.

It’s Time to Push the Red Sox Panic Button

After a disappointing and flat trade deadline that did not address the most glaring needs on the roster, the Red Sox opened a 3-game set with the 2nd place Tampa Bay Rays just 0.5 games ahead in the AL East. After being swept in, at times, embarrassing fashion, and on a 4-game losing streak, it’s officially time to panic. The 1.5 game deficit in the division is obviously not insurmountable, but with the improved New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays poised to make a run at 2nd and a wild card berth (now just 5.5 and 6.5 games behind the Red Sox respectively), it’s going to get worse before it’s over.

The major issue for this team is the pitching staff. Before a great outing from P Nick Pivetta on Sunday to kick-off August, the staff struggled. In July, the staff had a 4.56 ERA, allowed 29 HRs, and walked 76 batters in 25 games. That translates to 1.16 HRs and 3.04 BBs per game during the month. Your current “ace” P Eduardo Rodriguez hasn’t gone past 6 innings since April and hasn’t even recorded an out in the 6th inning in 10 of his last 15 starts. His past two starts are a combined 4.1 innings with 7 earned runs and his ERA for the season is now 5.60 including a concerning 1 inning outing where he left with a migraine. E-Rod just can’t seem to reach his potential for any extended period of time.

The rest of the rotation has been up and down as well. The down is definitely P Garrett Richards who just doesn’t look like he belongs in a major league rotation at this point. I’m sure the Red Sox are waiting for Sale to return to boot him, but it’s getting hard to watch when his turn is up. In his last 10 starts, his ERA has steadily grown every single game from 3.75 to 5.15. He’s a guaranteed 4 runs allowed per game in 4-5 innings. The up has been P Nathan Eovaldi when he’s on, but just like everyone else, has had several bad games in the last month or two, allowing 5 runs in 2 of his last 4 starts.

Chris Sale will be returning at some point, but even if he is 100% vintage Sale, which he will not be, he can only pitch every 5 days. When the other 4 days are up and down short outings and taxed bullpen arms, the losses will pile up, especially with 20 more games to play against the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays. If the Red Sox make the postseason, and that’s a big if, I have very little confidence in the pitching staff to hold off a heavy-hitting lineup.

If the pitching staff is just ok, then the offense for the Red Sox needs to step up and score a ton of runs. That leads me to the other glaring weakness of the team, first base. Red Sox first baseman this year are hitting a combined .217 with an OBP of .261 and just 14 HRs in 107 games. The leader of the pack is 1B Bobby Dalbec with a WAR of -1.1 and a staggering .214 average. Everyone knew coming up that he had a tendency to strikeout, but that could be offset by his power and decent average. In 86 games (299 PAs), he is hitting .214 with 11 HRs and 113 Ks. If the Red Sox had any other option, he would be in AAA right now. The addition of OF Kyle Schwarber could help if he can convert to first base, but he’s still a week or two away from being able to play with his hamstring issue and then needs to take some time to get comfortable there. By that point, the Red Sox could be 5-6 games out and hanging on by a thread to 3rd or even 4th place in the division.

The larger offensive concern right now is the overall team production. Everyone thought OF Jarren Duran would be the spark to light the team on fire, but he’s struggling big time with a .150 average and just 1 HR and 17 Ks in 14 games (43 PAs). He’s more of a liability than an asset and may just find himself out of the playoff picture (if the Sox get there) replaced by Schwarber, or anyone else, in the outfield. The heavy-hitters in the lineup are also struggling, with DH/OF J.D. Martinez looking a bit lost at the plate hitting .146 in his last 12 games and SS Xander Bogaerts hitting .225 in his last 22 games. This team needs a lot of offensive production to compensate for shaky pitching at times and right now, they are getting neither.


There is obviously still time for things to turn around. The offense could begin to get going and return to their big-hitting form and the starting pitching could give this team just enough to win a bunch of games, but right now, things look pretty scary. It’s the worst this team has looked all season at the worst possible time to be struggling with everyone around them turning it on for the stretch run. On top of that, the AL West may grab one of the two wild card berths, making it a 4-way fight for two spots, instead of three in another year. I want to believe, but I just don’t have a good feeling about how this will end.

Chaim Bloom: Trade Deadline Success?

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

With the trade deadline just 2+ days away, it’s worth looking at Chaim Bloom’s history with trades this time of year. Beginning with Bloom’s promotion to Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations (2nd in command) in late 2016, he has been quite active leading up to the deadline. Overall, he has a decent track record of success over the past 4 years, even when the Rays were sellers in 2018. Although he wasn’t the only one calling the shots during his time in Tampa, he was a major voice in the decision-making. What will the 2021 trade deadline bring for Bloom and the Red Sox?

Let’s look, year-by-year, at the deals Bloom has made leading up to the trade deadline.

2017 – Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays made some small acquisitions in 2017, including bolstering their bullpen and attempting to improve at 1B.

Acquired

Traded Away

Analysis: This was a decent deadline with P Chaz Roe and P Sergio Romo having extremely strong remainders to 2017 despite the Rays missing the playoffs (Roe – 9 appearances – 8.2 IP, 1.04 ERA, 12 Ks, 3 BBs and Romo – 25 appearances – 30.2 IP, 1.47 ERA, 28 Ks, 7 BBs). While neither repeated their miniscule ERAs going forward, Roe is still with the team and Romo had a good 2018 before heading to the Miami Marlins. 1B Lucas Duda and P Dan Jennings were mostly irrelevant the remainder of 2017 before leaving the Rays. P Drew Smith has had minimal impact for the New York Mets since making his debut in 2018 and 1B Casey Gillaspie, at 28, has not risen above AA.

2018 – Tampa Bay Rays

This was a classic seller-minded trade deadline for the Rays. With more than a half-dozen transactions, they completely re-made their roster, mostly by trading away their pitching rotation.

Acquired

Traded Away

Analysis: While the Rays certainly traded away some serious assets at the deadline, it wasn’t a complete blow-up and restart. They traded away some big pitching names in Archer and Eovaldi but acquired a few players with some big upside. The biggest future impacts came from P Tyler Glasnow, OF Austin Meadows, and OF Tommy Pham. All three had a major impact in clinching the 2019 2nd Wild Card spot and beating the Oakland Athletics in the ALWC game and Glasnow and Meadows were on the 2020 roster that reached the World Series. P Jalen Beeks was performing well in 2020 before needing Tommy John surgery in August 2020. Since the trade, Archer’s ERA has grown from 3.70 to 4.92 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which is a check in Bloom’s column.

2019 – Tampa Bay Rays

In his last year with the Rays, the trade deadline was much quieter for Bloom than 2018.

Acquired

Traded Away

Analysis: Overall this is a decent trade deadline. While 1B Jesus Aguilar was only on the roster for the remainder of 2019 before heading to Miami, P Nick Anderson and P Trevor Richards are still with the Rays. Anderson had a strong 2020 before ending up with an elbow tear and has yet to appear in 2021. Richards is 4-1 with a 3.72 ERA in 27 games (38.2 IP) for the Rays this year. OF Jesus Sanchez has been solid for the Marlins, but Stanek (HOU), Kolarek (OAK), and Faria (MIL) haven’t been anything to write home about.  

2020 – Boston Red Sox

In his first year at the Red Sox helm, it was one of the oddest seasons in MLB history. The shortened year, sign-stealing scandal leading to the firing of Alex Cora, and the COVID pandemic, it was difficult to truly judge Bloom’s effectiveness at the deadline.

Acquired

Traded Away

Analysis: The 2020 deadline was an opportunity for Bloom to begin rebuilding the farm system that was cleaned out by his predecessor Dave Dombrowski. Bloom brought in 4 prospects: P Connor Seabold (#6 prospect), OF Jeisson Rosario (#24 prospect), 3B Hudson Potts (#26 prospect), and Jacob Wallace (#48 prospect – was #28, but the UConn product has struggled in 2021). Along with the prospects, Bloom brought in P Nick Pivetta, who has had a solid impact on the AL East leading 2021 Red Sox. While it was sad to see 1B Mitch Moreland go and frankly, they could use him right now, overall it was successful deadline for Bloom.

*As of July 2021, rankings by SoxProspects.com